Tuesday, January 16, 2018

REVIEW: Mystic Messenger (game) - Jaehee's route (plus After Ending and Valentine's Day)

I know I said I'd review this ages ago...and then I didn't. Well, I'm finally getting around to it. The short version: I loved it! Enough to actually spend money in the app, which is saying a lot for me. I don't like spending money on or in apps.

First, a little about the game (again). Mystic Messenger is best played on a phone, although I suppose you could play it on a tablet as well. You'd lose a little of the immersiveness, since the app is supposed to mimic the experience of chatting with, emailing, and calling people on a phone, but I assume it'd still be playable.

Because it mimics interaction with real people, gameplay happens pretty much in real-time. Which means you're going to get notifications at all hours of the day that there's someone in the chatroom, or that you have an email, etc. If you miss a phone call or chatroom conversation, you can pay hourglasses (which you either earn throughout the game, buy with hearts you earn in the game, or buy with real money) to re-open them, although a certain number of chatroom conversations can be missed without ruining a route. The main game happens over the course of 11 days, or less if you get one of the earlier bad endings.

I started my first playthrough after I got back on vacation, which was a good idea, because the app uses your current timezone to schedule the various chats and game events. You can't change the timezone, so that's something to consider before starting the game. For my first time through, I opted to play relatively naturally, at least during the Common route (the first four days of the game). During that time I got to know the characters and situation. You play as someone who's installed a mysterious app and gets roped into joining a group that plans fundraising parties for charities. For some reason the group decides that you should plan their first party since one of their prominent members died a while back.

I missed my first 3 AM chatroom and quickly learned when to expect chatroom notifications: approximately at midnight, 3 AM, 7 AM, 9 AM, 10 AM, noon, 3 PM, 5 PM, 7 PM, 9 PM, and 11 PM, with variations depending on the day. Whether it's a weekday or the weekend in the real world isn't taken into account. Chatroom notifications never happen more than once an hour (if you get one at 10:15, you won't get another one until at least after 11), and you have until the next chatroom notification to participation in the chat, or you'll miss it.

It didn't take me long to figure out who my favorite characters were. I particularly liked 707 (a hacker who loves cats and likes to joke around), Zen (a flirty actor), and Jaehee (the only living female member of the group, the overworked assistant of one of the other members). When you first start playing, you're given the option of either playing the Casual Route or the Deep Route. The Deep Route costs hourglasses (either earned or purchased), so I went with the Casual Route, which was free. This limited me to either Zen, Jaehee, or Yoosung's routes. I couldn't decide who I liked best, Zen or Jaehee, and by playing relatively naturally I ended up with Jaehee's route. After that point I specifically aimed for her "good" ending, even though it meant having to pretend that I disliked cats.

Jaehee's route is technically more of a friendship route than a romantic one, which I worried meant that it would specifically be designed to be "bad" for the player no matter what. I sucked it up and tried to accept that possibility. I even went as far as to try to hook Jaehee up with Zen - I liked them both, so hey, why not?

Jaehee's route turned out to be really, really good. I enjoyed encouraging her as she dealt with her horrible boss and ridiculous workload, and, even though she was a fictional character, it felt nice having her encourage me back, thank me, and tell me that I made her feel better. Her voice actress sounded wonderful, and I found myself using precious hourglasses to occasionally call Jaehee (and gritting my teeth when I got her voicemail - you don't get hourglasses back if your call isn't picked up). Throughout the route, I got bits and pieces of her story, and I really felt for her and wanted things to turn out well for her.

Jaehee's "good" ending was lovely and made me wish that more visual novels had satisfying friendship endings, rather than just romantic endings (or "bad" endings). I could see what sort of responses might earn players Jaehee's last "bad" ending, and I cringed at the thought of actually doing that - I doubt I'll ever go through and try to get Jaehee's "bad" endings, and not just because the real-time gameplay would make that a significant time commitment. I just like her too much.

Jaehee's After Ending:

After you finish a route, you're given the ability to access the character's After Ending (what happens after you meet the character at the party), Valentine's Day, and voice actor freetalk. If I remember right, the freetalk is free, but you have to pay hourglasses (maybe 20 each?) for the After Ending and Valentine's Day. While Jaehee's After Ending gave her story a bit more closure, it was disappointingly short and a little unsatisfying.

Unlike the rest of the game, these extras aren't done in real-time, so you just click through them and enjoy. If I remember right, there are moments when you get to choose between different responses, but I think it just slightly changes the conversations - I'm pretty sure the ending is the same no matter what you do. I suppose I could replay it and confirm, but I'm currently doing Zen's route and mixing Jaehee into that feels weird...

Jaehee's Valentine's Day:

After the slight disappointment of Jaehee's After Ending, I was worried that Jaehee's Valentine's Day would be as unsatisfying. Even so, I paid my 20 hourglasses and gave it a shot. Thankfully it turned out to be much better than Jaehee's After Ending. It was nice seeing how Jaehee was doing, and her interactions with the player character (it feels weird saying "her interactions with me") were so sweet!

The Verdict:

If you have a phone (or tablet) and don't mind the idea of real-time gameplay (sort of) with occasional interruptions throughout your day, give this a shot! It's quite possible to play completely for free, although saving up enough hourglasses for some of the game's extras might take a while.

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